Beating 2019 second place winner FC Tokyo by 4-0 and cruising past Kashima Reysol 3-1, Kawasaki Frontale is certainly enjoying J league resuming. In contrast, the newly promoted Yokohama FC had their squad well rested as well, beating Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 and tying against Vegalta Sendai 1-1. As Yokohama FC, who once had former Glasgow Celtic legend, Shunsuke Nakamura, who scored the infamous goal against Manchester United, challenged the powerhouse Kawasaki Frontale, the result was not in favor of Yokohama FC. As Kawasaki Frontale continued to showcase their dominance by successfully beating Yokohama FC 5-1.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine what tactics Kawasaki Frontale and Yokohama FC used, and what exactly went wrong for the challenger Yokohama FC.
Kawasaki Frontale in blue, manager Toru Oniki displayed 4-3-3. The defensive line consists of Noborizato Kyohei, Kurumaya Shintaro, Shogo Taniguchi, and Miki Yamane. Ahead of the defensive line, the midfield diamond consists of Ao Tanaka as a holding midfielder, Yasuto Wakizaka and Ryota Oshima who constantly pulled the strings for Frontale. The front three consisted of former Internacional striker, Leandro Damaio, Tatsuya Hasegawa and Akihiro Ienaga.
In contrast, the challenger opted for 3-5-2. The three man defensive line consisted of Yuki Kobayashi, Hoshi Kyoowan and Masakazu Tashiro. Ahead of the compact defensive line, Kensuke Sato operated as a holding midfielder, as Testuki Seko and Takuya Matsuura assisted the holding midfielder by forming an inverse triangle. For right and left winger, Katsuhiro Nakayama operated in the right, while Yusuke Matsuo operated in the left. Ahead of the five man midfield, Koki Sato and Kazunari Ichimi operated as strikers.
Constant movement among Frontale midfielders
Within the midfield, Kawasaki Frontale’s midfielders did an excellent job of rotating and creating passing angles for each other to move up the field. The rotation of midfield, led by Ohashi, caused Yokohama FC to move in relation to their opposition, which created space for Kawasaki Frontale players to move into. In the example below, Oshima passes the ball to Tanaka as Wakizaka moves to the open pocket to receive the ball. This successful movement was able to bring the midfield up the field as a unit.
In addition, these movements caused confusion for the opposition as Oshima used his keen passing ability to find striker, Damaio, on numerous occasions. Using his vision, Ohashi often found Damaio in zone 14, where he often held the ball up for other Kawasaki players to move up the field. However, if opportunities is available, he was not afraid to take shots from distance, as he had two shots from outside of the box, one shot being on target. In addition, Damaio had the highest number of shots in the team, with four shots total. In the example below, Ohashi quickly receives the ball in the midfield and passes the ball to striker as he shoots from distance.
Correct usage of Oshima (final third)
Known for his great reading of the game, passing ability, and spacial awareness, Kawasaki Frontale utilized Oshima’s ability effectively. In order to utilize the key attributes of Ohashi, Kawasaki Frontale’s midfielders had to move into different locations to open the space for Ohashi to receive the ball. For example, Tanaka drops in between the midfield line and the defensive line to act as a pivot to pass the ball towards the sides.
In addition, Noborizato and Yamane both move up forward to the midfield line in order to create numerical superiority in order to create triangle passing formation, as Oshima and Wakizaka move towards the side to support the triangle. Finally, Ienaga and Hasegawa both operate towards the sides, in order to pin the opposition right back and left back, as Damiao remains centrally in order to act as a target player.
In the image below, Kawasaki’s center backs split during the build-up for one of the midfielders to drop in between to create numerical superiority against the opposition forward. This caused one of the midfielders to be open (which tended to be Oshima) and the central midfielder quickly finds the fullback who overloads the channels with the forwards and the midfielders.
In the opposition final third, Kawasaki constantly looked to enter the half space in order to cross the ball effectively. However, Yokohama FC made it extremely difficult as they deployed five men in the back (will analyze later in the report). In order to overcome this problem, Kawasaki utilized Ohashi’s vision and understanding of the game.
If half spaces are well defended, Ohashi quickly receives the ball in the midfield and switches the point of attack which caused Yokohama FC to shift with the ball at a rapid pace. This movement of the ball forced the opposition to shift with the ball, which naturally led one of the Kawasaki Frontale forwards to be free in the box. Kawasaki Frontale did an excellent job of keeping their players compact within the box in order to increase the chance of scoring.
The passing between Ohashi and fullback is illustrated in data as well. In the image below, it shows a strong direct link between 2 (Noborizato), 10 (Ohashi) and 41 (Ienaga), showcasing the high number of passes among each other. This data not only shows the number of times passes were made among players, but showcases Kawasaki’s ability to maintain possession within the midfield.
As the data shows, 49% of possession were located in midfield, 42% in final third, and only 9% in their own third. This data suggests that the midfielders and forwards of Kawasaki Frontale did an excellent job of rotating and creating passing angles for each other, led by Ohashi in the middle.
When shifting, Kawasaki Frontale constantly had four players in the opposition box, where they target Damaio to win aerial duels, as he averages 69% aerial dual win rate, behind 78% of Yamane (past five games). As a result of creating numerical superiority within the six-yard box, Kawasaki’s expected goals (xG) increased which resulted in the first goal.
Attacking tactics for Yokohama FC
For Yokohama FC, the team looked to pass out of the back even under pressure. The team turned to 3-5-2 during the buildup with both fullbacks relatively close to the center backs to create passing options. The three man backline was extremely comfortable at keeping the ball at their feet, completing majority of the passes among each other as they often found outlets in defensive midfield or right/left winger. In addition, the goalkeeper, Yuta Minami, joined the three man backline to become an option.
During buildup, defensive midfielder, Sato deemed to be extremely vital for Yokohama FC. Sato’s main position is the holding midfield, as he showcased great ability to find pockets of space between the opposition pressure and quickly spread the ball to the side. Sato had the highest number of progressive passes for Yokohama FC, as he had 15 progressive passes and 13 being accurate.
Once bypassing the initial pressure from the opposition forwards and the midfielders, Yokohama FC looked to find a center midfielder, Matsura, who runs behind the opposition midfield and defensive line. Once successfully receiving the ball, Yokohama FC’s striker, Saito, looks to enter the space behind the defensive line. Yokohama FC did an excellent job of having their players move into spaces between the opposition lines.
If Yokohama FC were unable to find their defensive midfielder, the center back, Tashiro, looked for the striker who pushed the opposition defensive line to create space for midfielders to occupy. By pushing back the backline, it creates a pocket of space where Yokohama FC players can move in and receive the ball. Yokohama tend to use this tactic when there were absolutely no passing option from the back, and had to look forward.
Within the final third, Yokohama FC used the width of the field and movement of the midfielders to their advantage. In the image below, Yokohama FC placed their midfielders near the touchline and continued to move off the ball in order to pull the defenders away in order for Nakayama to cross the ball into the six yard box. Using his great physical attributes, Hoshi clips the ball back into the six yard box where there are five Yokohama FC players waiting, which results in a goal.
In defense, Kawasaki Frontale opted for 4-3-3 with passive pressure from the forwards. In the analysis below, the front three (Isegawa, Damian, Hasegawa) passively pressures the Yokohama FC defensive line, as Kawasaki forwards covers shadows Yokohama’s midfielders and the Kawasaki midfielders closely marking the opposition midfielders making it extremely difficult to pass directly.
As a result, Yokohama was forced to play to the sides, where the right back, Hoshi, applied immediate pressure to force the ball back. This defensive tactic worked tremendously for Kawasaki, as Yokohama only had 47% possession rate and 23% of their total passing in the opposition half. In contrast, Yokohama FC averages 49% possession rate, and 76% total passing in opposition half this season. These statistics explain the ability of Kawasaki’s defense, as Yokohama FC struggled to perform at their usual best.
Within their own third, Kawasaki shifted their formation to 5-3-2 deep block. In the image below, Kawasaki does an excellent job of preventing Yokohama FC to enter the half space by allocating one of the midfielders to join the defensive line. Kawasaki Frontale did a great job of staying with their man as well. When a Yokohama FC player tried to move into the half space, Kawasaki Frontale players communicated well with each other to pass on the marking, which signifies the importance of teamwork and reliability.
Yokohama FC defense
In contrast, Yokohama FC opted for 4-4-2 defensive block during defense. Shown in the image below, Yokohama FC shifts with the ball particularly well, with the midfielders erasing the space in the middle for the opposition and forced Kawasaki backwards. In addition, since Yokohama FC made their wingers tuck inside to eliminate the space, the other side of the field opens up. In order to solve this problem, Yokohama FC made their fullbacks apply pressure to the pin the opposition winger.
Within their final third, Yokohama FC defended with 5-3-2 formation, as one of the center midfielder dropping into the defensive line to occupy the half space in order to eliminate the opposition to enter into space. This caused problems for Kawasaki, as they opted for crosses from poor position with only one true target, Damaio. However, in contrast to Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama FC did a poor job of communicating among each other, and had many opportunities where the half space was used against the opposition.
Turning point: 70th minute
The biggest turning point occurred in the 70th minute. Where Kawasaki started to be successful with isolating Yokohama FC’s right back by having the Hasegawa stretch near the touchline. In addition, Yokohama FC lost their concentration and did not place their center midfielder into the defensive line to create five in the back as they did in the first half. As a result, Ohashi found Hasegawa behind the defensive line where he took on three Yokohama FC defenders with his individual dribbling skills, which resulted in a foul in the box.
Another example of Kawasaki successfully isolating defenders in a high position and looking to play behind the defensive line. After clearance, Yokohama tends to be not as concentrated, where Kawasaki center midfielder quickly plays the striker to have a shot on target within the box, which turns into a goal.
Concentration, concentration, concentration
One of the reasons why Yokohama suffered the 5-1 defeat could be the lack of concentration after the 70th minute. As shown below, the first half crossing map for Kawasaki shows that the majority of the crosses Kawasaki had were outside of the box, which lowers the xG as it’s far from goal.
The lack of crossing within the box can be explained by the duration of the first half, Yokohama FC had their defensive line with five in the back, eliminating chances to have good crossing opportunities. However, during the second half, the crossing map showcases the majority of the crosses coming within the half space, which can drastically increase the xG. In fact, the xG for Kawasaki did rise drastically after the 70th minute, shown below.
Against Yokohama FC, Kawasaki Frontale showcased their ability to be patient with the ball, quickly switch the point of attack if one side of the field crowded, and their correct usage of Oshima proved to be vital in attack. In contrast, however, the halt of J league and the lack of fitness/practice might be the cause of lack of concentration within the second half for Yokohama FC, as they continuously lacked personnel within their defensive line, where Kawasaki capitalized on their mistake. Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether Yokohama FC can fix their problem, and Kawasaki continues to progress within the league as they make a bold statement in Asian football world, like they did when they beat Chelsea 1-0 last year.